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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

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Man in the Empty Suit - Sean Ferrell I'm a sucker for all kinds of narratives that mess around with the meta-, and not just the pomo hijinks beloved by (some of us) academics. For instance, I love heist films (where there's inevitably a long stretch planning the theft, where a version of the story is rehearsed, only to have that story repeat with unfortunate differences when enacted for real).

Or time travel stories--where we return to, and relive, and rediscover, events (often again, and again, and again).

I tucked into Sean Ferrell's novel with great excitement, and initial delight; for the first 75 or so pages I was sold, the carefully-defined premise here promising all kinds of fun. A man travels annually to celebrate his hundredth birthday in 2071 NYC, partying with an array of alternate selves from all points in his life. The participants each manifest distinctive personality traits; the same events recur, but each year these events are understood in new ways by the returning traveler. But this year our protagonist recognizes a darker strain, happens upon a murder to be solved, and begins communicating and connecting with more paranoid older versions of himself.

A helluva conceit: a murder mystery where the detective and (almost) every potential suspect are one and the same. (Or, rather, many and the same--variants of a self, scattered across the arc of a life.) And that offers a narrative pleasure that doesn't go away.... even if the novel's tricks faded for this reader, and the possible philosophical (and meta-narrative) hijinks felt or fell flat. I've read a fair number of these sorts of stories, and I kept being reminded of David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself. In short, I began to see Ferrell's novel as a repetition with less significant difference than I'd hoped for.

Many readers will rightfully find the plotting here a strange, wondrous delight. Time travel aficionados may feel like they've been here before.